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Big guns fire for Murphy

AS jump racing's big guns start to emerge for a new campaign, Colm Murphy is certainly a man who won't be complaining as the former Brave Inca trainer has unleashed his three biggest names to win on their seasonal reappearance, all in the space of just eight days.

Following on from the win of Quito De La Roque in last Saturday's JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, the first Grade One of the season in Ireland, Murphy set off from his Wexford base to Navan yesterday with former Champion Chase hero Big Zeb and his classy mare Voler La Vedette.

Both contenders oozed class and bags of it, but both ended up being sent off second favourite in their races.

Rising 11 at the turn of the year, Big Zeb was looking to begin his season with a third win in the Grade Two Fortria Chase. It was his most difficult assignment yet in the race as Noble Prince and Forpadydeplasterer provided the opposition and he duly obliged in quite a likeable manner.

In the hands of jockey Robbie Power for the first time, Big Zeb was friendless in the market beforehand but took over proceedings at the third last to claim a two-length victory.

The win impressed some of the major bookmaker firms, with Ladbrokes cutting him from 6/1 into 4/1 favourite for next year's Queen Mother Champion Chase which he won in 2010, while Paddy Power remained unchanged at 6/1 and Boylesports go the same price from 7/1.

Only one 11-year-old has managed to win the Champion Chase since the 1970s and that was Moscow Flyer, who in the same season won the Fortria Chase as a 10-year-old.

Big Zeb is now likely to follow the route he took last year which saw him have just three-runs before Cheltenham where he followed home Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase and it will certainly take the emergence of a new star to prevent him from being there or thereabouts.

"He was very good today as they were never going hard enough for him," said Murphy. "We will keep him ticking over until Christmas and Leopardstown is the plan. He should improve plenty."

Murphy had earlier instigated his double with Voler La Vedette in the Lismullen Hurdle as she trounced her rivals under Andrew Lynch.

The seven-year-old daughter of top sire King's Theatre had more than just her mares' allowance in hand when accounting for Fully Funded in the Grade Two contest and it was a win that Murphy was hoping was on the cards due to her homework.

"I was a bit worried as she was going so well at home and she never works well at home," admitted the winning trainer.

"She is stronger and she's been easier to train. She will more than likely go for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in two weeks' time."